Swollen Members ‘Reclaim the Throne’
February 26, 2010
Swollen Members is no stranger to the game when it comes to the music industry. The Canadian-based hip-hop group has been around since 1996, and its two primary MCs – Mad Child and Prevail – have seen their share of ups and downs.
But nothing has compared to the trials and tribulations of the past three years. After releasing their fifth studio album, "Black Magic," in 2006, the underground duo seemingly disappeared from fans’ radar.
Many assumed that Mad and Prevail were holed up with their longtime producer, Rob the Viking, working on new material. That was partially true – the trio had moved into a fortress in British Columbia to record – but there was more to the story.
Mad Child eventually revealed that he was battling a serious addiction to prescription drugs. The record label he created to release Swollen Members’ music, Battle Axe Records, had all but crumbled and he was embroiled in various legal battles.
"The complications with Mad were a little bit undercover to the rest of the group for about the first 9 months to a year," Prevail told The Park Record in an interview. "We had been partying on the weekends, but we didn’t realize the weekend had extended itself into a full seven-day regimen. The label complications – the change of guards, I like to refer to it as – I think sort of hit everybody in different ways. We all resorted to our own personal outlets, and Mad’s unfortunately was choosing to go the prescription drug route to relieve his animosities."
Fortunately, Mad Child was open about what was going on, both with his fellow group members and with the fans. In a statement posted on the band’s websites, he wrote, "I was severely addicted to Oxycontin, doing just over twenty 80 mg pills a day, which equals the strength of about 320 Percocet pills." He shared that he spent over half a million dollars on pills and lost approximately two million in neglected business transactions.
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Mad Child entered rehab and kicked the habit in time to put finishing touches on the group’s sixth album, which was released last October.
"What I see now is that he came out of it with so much inspiration musically, business-wise and friendship-wise," says Prevail. "I think he looks back and values the people who stuck by his side and didn’t desert him in times of angst."
The duo, along with their new protégé, Tre Nyce, recently embarked on a U.S. tour that will stop at The Star Bar in Park City on Thursday, March 4. The tour celebrates the end of the group’s three-year hiatus and promotes the new album, "Armed to the Teeth," which was released by Surburban Noize in conjunction with Battle Axe and produced in large part by Rob the Viking.
The title, says Prevail, has a double meaning. "In part because we’d been recording for three years, building up an arsenal in the musical stockade, we felt like we were armed to the teeth with music," he says. "The other side of that is, at a time when you would expect maybe communication to drop off, it actually increased. People were saying, ‘We don’t know what’s going on but whatever you guys are doing, you have our support.’ As [Mad Child’s addiction] became public knowledge, the support grew even more."
Much of that support came from the "Swollen Army," the band’s legion of loyal fans. Many of those fans have followed the group since their debut album in 1999. At that time, the Vancouverites were just staking their claim on Canada’s hip-hop scene – Mad Child an edgy, spitfire MC and Prevail a soft-spoken Canadian who effortlessly morphed into a freestyle phenom.
"When we met each other, in the formative years we really balanced each other out – hence the name of the first album, ‘Balance,’" says Prevail. "We really have learned how to play off of each other’s energies and bring the best out in each other. Certainly the last three years have been full of energy – some of it negative, some of it positive – but the positive balance has definitely overweighed the negative in every format now that we’re being retrospective about things."
The group will fete its 10-year anniversary with the release of a greatest hits album, "Ten Years of Turmoil," on March 16. The record will be composed not only of songs that were commercially successful, but songs that, "When we performed them live, the atmosphere of the crowd raised even another couple decibels. To us, we consider those the greatest hits," says Prevail.
Swollen Members also has big plans for the next couple of years. "There’s a lot of music coming out, and it’s going to be everything from the classic Swollen Members signature sound, to more experimental, current-sounding tracks," says Prevail. "We will keep pushing as well in those directions and just showing our diversity as I feel that we always have."
Both Mad Child and Prevail have solo albums in the works, and the next album, "Beautiful Death Machine," is already partially completed. "Beautiful Death Machine will be an album for the Swollen classic purists," says Prevail.
"Armed to the Teeth" took on a different, more modern sound. Some fans have been critical of the departure from the group’s signature style, but Prevail says the group wanted to venture in new directions.
"We’re quite excited about a lot of the chemistry that we came up with on that album," he says. A large part of the inspiration came from collaborating with Tre Nyce, an up-and-coming emcee also from Vancouver. "The kid’s a beast. He’s extremely talented and he’s become our little brother," says Prevail.
Tre Nyce will join Mad Child and Prevail on their U.S. tour along with opening acts Cool Nutz and Potluck.
Tickets for Swollen Members’ show at The Star Bar at $17 in advance at http://www.smithstix.com or $20 the day of the show. Doors open at 9 p.m. for ages 21 and over.